Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2015: Understanding systems


Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week is an annual observation started by the Workplace Bullying Institute to grasp the impact of workplace bullying and what we can do about it. For me, it’s a simple, gentle reminder: The work goes on.

This work should be grounded in an understanding that preventing and responding to bullying at work is a multi-faceted endeavor. Social workers are taught early in their training about systems theory, which explains how human behaviors are interconnected in complex ways. A problem that, from a distance, may appear to be an isolated, individual situation typically links to other persons and organizations, at least once you take a closer look. This applies to both causes and solutions.

Workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse rarely occur in a vacuum. It follows that preventing and responding to these behaviors requires buy-in from all stakeholders remotely connected to employee relations. They include, among others: Workers, their families, and their friends; labor and civil rights activists; executives, managers, and human resources directors; lawyers and legislators; mental health and medical professionals; and educators and researchers.

Furthermore, workplace bullying is related to many other forms of interpersonal abuse, including school bullying, cyberbullying and stalking, public mobbing, domestic and family abuse, and elder abuse. While each form of mistreatment presents its own unique dynamics, you’ll find plenty of similarities as well, including patterns of individual behavior, harms to targets, and institutional responses (or lack thereof).

In some instances, the aggressors may cross into different settings. A person who experiences one form of abuse may be more vulnerable to another in the future. Regardless of the specific context, others besides the aggressor(s) and target(s) will be affected. Generally, an overall social ethic can seep into sub-settings for good and bad alike; societal cultures vary widely in their rejection or acceptance of abusive behaviors.

This also is why I’ve been sounding a broader theme of human dignity in a lot of recent posts. The sooner we can build our broad-based, interconnected network of individuals and institutions committed to human dignity, the faster we’ll see a reduction of workplace bullying and other types of mistreatment.


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4 responses

  1. This article focuses on one of THE most important things to understand about work abuse – i.e., it is systemic in nature. Our work systems are based on authority and hierarchy and it is these two qualities that do much to “allow” and, in fact, promote work abuse. It is not enough to only focus on a person as ‘the’ problem.

    From this one article, many more could be written about the many facets of why work abuse is systemic. It is a very complex topic.

    Thank you, Mr. Yamada.

  2. Thank you for this post. We are happy to announce that we have joined with your dates to announce Workplace Bullying Awareness Week. We wish to see this become a date shared world wide. ABRC staff consists of social workers, psychologists, nurses, and more. Each of us are familiar with systems theory and the reality of gaps that exists within them. Unfortunately many of our clients experience secondary trauma as a result of these gaps. Please see our article on Minding The Gaps. We offer many interesting perspectives. We can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Thank you David Yamada! We always enjoy yours posts!

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